Long form content is making a comeback. Can narrative make a comeback too?

By Stewart Wells on Feb 01, 2021

In a time where attention spans are getting less and less, having something to say that’s relevant and engaging is more important than ever.

In the field I work in, Motion, over recent years there’s been an increasing trend for content to be shorter in duration. You can still watch 60 or 30-second ads on network TV – yes, that thing you use to stream endless hours of Netflix on actually has live (happening now) channels available. With the growth in social media, online ad durations have been squeezed and squeezed, dropping to 20, 15, 10, 5 even 3-second spots. Now, I know I’m telling you something you’re probably already aware of. But, when we think about it, what has been the real cost? Narrative. Think about all those ads you see online and you just glaze over and ignore. Why? Because they no longer connect.

Narrative is about engaging people through storytelling. Whether that’s fictional or non-fictional, it’s about communicating in a way that resonates, and the less time you have to communicate, the less time you have to connect. However, contrary to what I said earlier, research shows that the trend in shorter content is beginning to change, with more longer format content making a comeback. In fact, consumption of longer form content is tipped to increase through 2021 and beyond. Can narrative make a comeback too? Well, that depends on us as marketers and filmmakers.

Narrative can be misunderstood or even lost in the haze of marketing kafuffle. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the story should be all about the brand or product. Just because your brand has a story to tell, doesn’t mean you have an engaging narrative. To truly engage with your audience, your narrative should be as much about them as it is your brand / product – in some cases, even more so – and harnessing an insight that connects the two is critical.

OK, let’s back up a bit. Why is narrative so important in advertising? There’s a line I heard from an Art Director friend of mine that goes “Don’t tell people you’re funny and expect them to believe you. Make them laugh”. What this message is all about is being authentic. If, as marketers, we ram information down the throats of our consumers and expect them to swallow it, we’re destined to fail. If instead we can connect in an engaging and authentic way and trigger an emotional reaction, we will gain trust. And trust is fundamental, not only to the success of sales, but to the success of a brand as a whole.

Here I have collected some of my favourite ads that I believe show just how important narrative is in connecting with your audience.

Thomson Holidays (TUI) – Time

At a whopping one minute thirty seconds long (directors cut), it’s a spine-tingling, tear-jerking success. The narrative has nothing to do with holidays specifically, it’s about spending more time together and how that feels – it just so happens that holidays are the one time you can break away from the distractions of everyday life and really be together.

Nike – You Can’t Stop Us

At their core, Nike sell sports shoes. Although this spot centres around sport, the narrative is about the resilience of us as humans to overcome adversity, especially when we come together as one.

Mercedes Benz – I Am Mercedes Benz

This is an oldie but a goodie, in my opinion. The narrative is somewhat more abstract than my other two references but just as good, nonetheless. Saying nothing specific about the vehicle or the brand, it oozes confidence and understated cool, tapping into the mind of luxury car owners to cement Mercedes Benz as the car brand that complements your personality and mindset.